What is a human right? How can we tell whether a proposed human right really is one? How do we establish the content of particular human rights, and how do we resolve conflicts between them? These are pressing questions for philosophers, political theorists, jurisprudents, international lawyers, and activists. James Griffin offers answers in his compelling new investigation of the foundations of human rights.
First, On Human Rights traces the idea of a natural right from its origin in the late Middle Ages, when the rights were seen as deriving from natural laws, through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the original theological background was progressively dropped and 'natural law' emptied of most of its original meaning. By the end of the Enlightenment, the term "human rights" (droits de l'homme) appeared, marking the purge of the theological background. But the Enlightenment, in putting nothing in its place, left us with an unsatisfactory, incomplete idea of a human right.
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Oxford University Press
February 14, 2008
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